If there are any Everton supporters fearing that the appointment of Sean Dyche will bring about a style of football capable of leaving the Goodison Park faithful queuing up outside the nearest chiropractor – their necks strained beyond all recognition – you need only cast your minds back to mid-March, 2021.
Dyche’s Burnley side triumphed 2-1 at the home of the Toffees that day, playing the sort of high-tempo, free-flowing attacking football not always associated with the gravel-voiced Clarets legend.
Yes, Burnley were renowned for a rather direct, pragmatic approach under Dyche. But how much of that was borne out of necessity rather than desire? Dyche was forced to operate on one of the Premier League’s most limited budgets, and therefore had to do what he had to do in order to survive.
Dyche knew the strengths of the players at his disposal, and played to them. Asking that Burnley side to play like a claret-and-blue Man City tribute act would be like asking Liam Gallagher to sing like Michael Buble.
But that the nature of 2-1 win at Everton, nearly two years ago, is a reminder of how much Dyche got out of relatively little. Yes, his team was famed for a rock-solid defence and a less-than-fashionable style. But attackers Chris Wood and Dwight McNeil – scorer of the two goals at Goodison Park – also played the best football of their careers under the Kettering-born 51-year-old.
“An exceptional talent,” Dyche said of McNeil after his sumptuous first-half winner, a left-footed curler pinged in via the crossbar. “He is very good player and can only get better.”
Moments of supreme quality like that became rather commonplace for McNeil at Turf Moor. The England U21 international will be hoping that a reunion with the coach who gave him his senior debut can light a future under an Everton career yet to spark into life.
McNeil is not the only current Everton player who worked with Dyche at Burnley either. James Tarkowski was one of the first names on his team-sheet. As was Michael Keane, for a spell. Keane’s fine form at Burnley earned him a £30 million move to Everton and, having played just 22 minutes of Premier League football all season, the former Man United youngster is one of those who stands to benefit most from Dyche’s arrival.
AN OLD-SCHOOL 4-4-2
Frank Lampard’s Everton often lined up in a 4-3-3 system. Dyche, however, has built a career upon an organised and unfussy 4-4-2. There are a number of players at Goodison Park who could relish an approach in line with Dyche’s preferred style.
Take Dominic Calvert-Lewin, for instance. He has just one Premier League goal all season but that is largely down to a paucity of chances coming his way. Calvert-Lewin is at his most effective converting deliveries from out wide. Fortunately for him, Dyche’s Burnley tended to create many a goalscoring opportunity by whipping in crosses; neglecting possession for possession’s sake in favour of a more direct approach. Chris Wood, a physical number nine in the Calvert-Lewin mould, hit double figures in the Premier League for four straight seasons under Dyche
You can probably expect to see McNeil revert to the left-wing too; having been utilised often on the right by Lampard. McNeil, a £20 million signing, has just one assist for Everton but managed 16 in three years alongside Dyche. On paper, McNeil and Calvert-Lewin are a marriage made in footballing heaven. Dyche could be something of a Cupid-like figure; putting these starcrossed lovers on the road to a whirlwind romance.
Dyche also likes a strong, physical spine running through the heart of his teams. Calvert-Lewin, Amadou Onana, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Tarkowski, Keane and Conor Coady all look like players very well suited to life under the one-time Millwall midfielder. Full-backs Nathan Patterson, Seamus Coleman and Vitaliy Mykolenko, meanwhile, may be more comfortable in an orthodox back-four rather than in a wing-back system.
This is not to say Dyche has no place for more mercurial, maverick talents. Maxwel Cornet, a left-back at Lyon, was a revelation in a central-attacking role at Turf Moor, enjoying the most prolific campaign of his league career. Demarai Gray, Everton’s most consistent creative threat this season, could thrive in a similar role, providing a link between Calvert-Lewin and an aggressive but technically-limited midfield. Anthony Gordon may be utilised in a similar way, should he stay put amid interest from Newcastle United.